Sadio Mane was included in Senegal’s World Cup squad on Friday as coach Aliou Cisse gambled on one of the world’s best forwards being fit and ready in time after injuring his lower right leg this week playing for Bayern Munich.
Cisse said Senegal’s medical team hoped that Mane would need about a week to recover from the injury he sustained on Tuesday in a league game in Germany and therefore be ready for Senegal’s opening game at the World Cup against the Netherlands on Nov. 21 — on paper the strongest team Senegal will face in Group A in Qatar. But Cisse also raised the possibility that Mane may not be fit in time for the tournament, which would dash the hopes of a nation that has come to rely on Mane delivering at big moments.
“Sadio Mane is a key player in our group. We will do all we can to have Sadio Mane (available),” Cisse said at the Senegal squad announcement in Dakar that was dominated by whether Mane would be in or out.
“Losing Sadio Mane is not something small for Senegal and African football. We have to anticipate in case he is absent, but we still have time to see if he will be fit or not,” Cisse said. “I cannot speak of his absence even if in my head I have to take this into account.”
Cisse said Senegal had sent its team doctor to Munich to examine Mane’s injury and the “good news” was that he did not require surgery. The initial diagnosis was that Mane would be out for around a week, Cisse said.
Bayern has already said that Mane will miss this weekend’s game against Schalke in the Bundesliga because of the injury but gave no definitive time frame on his recovery.
Mane is the focus of a Senegal team which won its first African Cup of Nations title this year and is rated by many as the best African side to ever go to a World Cup. It has realistic hopes of making the quarterfinals and may be Africa’s best chance yet of having a team reach the last four at a World Cup for the first time.
The 30-year-old Mane has been vital for Senegal, scoring the penalty that won the African Cup title in a shootout against Egypt in February. A month later, he also netted the winning penalty in another shootout that clinched Senegal a place at the World Cup in Qatar in a playoff, again beating Egypt. He recently became his country’s all-time leading scorer and finished second in this year’s Ballon d’Or behind Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema.
The rest of the squad was as expected, with Cisse keeping faith with the heart of the team that won the African Cup in Cameroon for Senegal’s first major title.
That includes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and central defender Kalidou Koulibaly, midfielders Idrissa Gueye, Nampalys Mendy and Cheikhou Kouyate, and forwards Ismaila Sarr and Famara Diedhiou.
There’s also AC Milan defender Fode Ballo-Toure and Tottenham midfielder Pape Matar Sarr, who are new contenders for starting spots.
News of Mane’s injury put his West African home nation on tenterhooks. Even Senegal President Macky Sall sent out a tweet hoping for Mane’s “speedy recovery” in time for the World Cup.
Senegal will play host Qatar, the Netherlands and Ecuador in Group A and Cisse said his squad would continue to prepare as they had planned, despite the situation with Mane.
“For the moment, there is no question of changing anything,” Cisse said.
World Cup rules allow teams to replace an injured player up to a day before the team’s opening game, meaning Senegal still has the option of bringing in another player later on if Mane doesn’t recover in time. That would still be a major blow for Senegalese hopes and the World Cup itself.
At 30, Mane is probably at his peak right now and may not get another chance at the World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Seny Dieng (Queens Park Rangers), Alfred Gomis (Rennes), Edouard Mendy (Chelsea)
Defenders: Pape Abou Cisse (Olympiacos), Abdou Diallo (Leipzig), Ismail Jakobs (Monaco), Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea), Formose Mendy (Amiens), Youssouf Sabaly (Real Betis), Fode Ballo-Toure (AC Milan)
Midfielders: Pathe Ciss (Rayo Vallecano), Krepin Diatta (Monaco), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Pape Gueye (Marseille), Cheikhou Kouyate (Nottingham Forest), Mamadou Loum (Reading), Nampalys Mendy (Leicester), Moustapha Name (Pafos), Pape Matar Sarr (Tottenham)
Forwards: Boulaye Dia (Salernitana), Bamba Dieng (Marseille), Nicolas Jackson (Villarreal), Sadio Mane (Bayern Munich), Iliman Ndiaye (Sheffield United), Ismaila Sarr (Watford), Famara Diedhiou (Alanyaspor)